PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN (BNO NEWS) — Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is better known as the Pakistani Taliban, was killed Friday when a U.S. drone carried out a missile strike in Pakistan’s volatile tribal region, local intelligence officials said.
The unmanned U.S. drone fired at least four missiles at a residential building and a nearby vehicle in the village of Dandey Darpakhel, which is located about 7 kilometers (4 miles) north of Miranshah, the main town in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area. The region is near the border with Afghanistan and is frequently the target of U.S. drone strikes.
Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said six bodies were recovered at the scene of Friday’s drone strike. The militant compound was allegedly used by Mehsud, who has served as the militant group’s leader since August 2009, making him one of the most wanted terrorists in the world. Both officials said Mehsud was among those killed.
The Pakistani Taliban made no official announcement following Mehsud’s death, but a senior source in the group acknowledged that its leader was among those killed and was to be buried on Saturday. The source said at least three other militants had also been killed in the strike, including Mehsud’s bodyguard and driver.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry strongly condemned the drone strike, which came less than 24 hours after another drone strike in North Waziristan. “These strikes are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. There is an across the board consensus in Pakistan that these drone strikes must end,” the ministry said in a statement, shortly before reports emerged that Mehsud had been killed.
The statement added that such strikes set “dangerous precedents” in interstate relations and have a negative impact on the relationship between Pakistan and the United States. “Pakistan has consistently maintained that drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives and have human rights and humanitarian implications,” it said.
Mehsud was a spokesman for the militant group under the command of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in August 2009. Initially known as Zulfiqar Mehsud, he became known by his birth name Hakimullah Mehsud when he was appointed the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban by a 42-member advisory council.
The leader, believed to be in his 30s, was charged in U.S. federal court in August 2010 for his alleged involvement in an attack against Camp Chapman near the Afghan town of Khost in December 2009. The attack involved a suicide bomber posing as an intelligence asset who walked through the front gates of the base before detonating his explosives, killing 7 CIA employees in the deadliest attack on U.S. intelligence officials since 1983.
In September 2010, the U.S. State Department designated the Pakistani Taliban as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and its top two leaders as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. In addition, the U.S. offered a $ 5 million reward for any information leading to the arrest of Mehsud.
Earlier this year, the militant group’s second-in-command, Wali-ur-Rehman, was killed when a U.S. drone fired missiles against a compound and a vehicle in Dandey Darpakhel. It was not immediately clear who will succeed Mehsud, as Rehman would have been his successor if he had been alive.
U.S. drone strikes have become relatively common during President Barack Obama’s tenure in which the unmanned aircraft have targeted suspected militants, their hideouts, and training facilities. However, the number of civilians killed along with militants during such attacks has remained uncertain.
The total number of deaths caused by drone strikes in 2012 stood well over 300, according to the Washington-based think tank New America Foundation, and as many as 3,239 individuals have been killed as a result of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan alone between 2004 and January 2013.
In January 2012, President Obama, for the first time during his presidency, publicly acknowledged that U.S. drones regularly strike suspected militants along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He confirmed that many of these strikes are carried out in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, targeting al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects in tough terrain.
Pakistan’s government has been public in its stance against the drone strikes, as local residents and officials have blamed them for killing innocent civilians and motivating young men to join the Taliban. Details about the alleged militants are almost never provided, and the U.S. government does not comment publicly on the strikes.
However, the U.S. has used drones as an important tool in their fight against terrorism. In June 2012, al-Qaeda deputy leader Abu Yahya al-Libi was killed when a U.S. drone fired two missiles at a compound and a nearby pickup truck in the village of Hesokhel, located in the Mir Ali district just east of Miranshah. It was the most serious blow to al-Qaeda since U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden during a secret military operation in the Pakistani city of Abbotabad in May 2011.